As someone who’s doing my best to eat cheap and healthy, I felt like I hit a goldmine when I discovered r/EatCheapAndHealthy. This community is full of great ideas for meals that won’t blow my budget to bits, and I especially loved the conversation that took place when u/getfreefromfood asked people to share their favorite end of the month “broke ’til payday” meals.
Many of these recipes rely on staples that you can keep in your pantry all month long. I like to grab a few reliable items like black beans, lentils, pasta, rice, and sometimes a fancier grain as a treat (lately, I’m obsessed with farro) as I grocery shop throughout the month so I always have the building blocks of a meal on hand.
Frozen fruit and veggies are also total lifesavers, and contrary to what you may have heard, they can have just as much — and sometimes even more — nutritional value as fresh.
To stock up on spices, I like to check my local ethnic grocery stores. They often carry huge containers half the price of a tiny jar at the supermarket. And if you have a Grocery Outlet in your area, that can be another great place to find deals on literally anything. Like, I’ve even found cheap avocados there.
Here’s what people swear by to get through those times when there’s a little too much month at the end of their money:
“Pantry ‘chili’: cans of beans, diced tomatoes, corn, tomato paste, and green chilis if I have ’em. Saute onions in cumin and chili powder, then add beans, then the rest of it. Simmer for a bit, but usually tastes better next day.”
If it helps to check out a recipe, this one looks very similar to the pantry chili my mom used to make every Halloween night.
“My absolute cheapest meal is mujadara. Well-browned onions, lentils, rice, salt, and pepper. It’s so much more than it sounds.”
“Peanut noodles! Ingredients are peanut butter, soy sauce, and pasta, plus some things to jazz it up if you’ve got them. For the sauce, mix roughly equal parts of PB, soy sauce, and water, adjusting the ratio to taste. If I have them, I add red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and ground ginger, a few drops of sesame oil, and sesame seeds, but it’s also decent without. You just put it on cooked pasta and voila! I like it with steamed frozen broccoli. In an ideal world, you’d have spaghetti, fettucine, or linguine for the pasta, but any shape is fine.”
“Oatmeal. So filling. Add some linseeds (aka flax seeds) for fiber, omega3, and a bit more chewiness.”
“Savory pancakes — you can put anything in ‘em and/or anything on ‘em.”
“White rice + black beans is my favorite cheap/healthy meal. Add some tomatoes and cilantro, and avocado if you can afford it, drizzle lemon or lime juice and you have a super filling and delicious meal for super cheap (except the avocados, lol).”
“Lentil and carrot soup. So tasty and good for you, but extremely cheap.”
This lentil and carrot soup is simple and nutritious. A little hack I’ve learned recently is to add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking a lentil soup for a subtly tangy kick.
“Canned tuna mixed with mayo on toast. Served with a pickle spear.”
“My fave one is egg and chips. It’s fried eggs and English style chips, but you can do fries; it doesn’t matter. My English mom used to make it growing up so it’s super comforting, and it’s delicious and cheap.”
“I try to keep chicken thighs in my freezer. Boneless and skinless, just for convenience. Take two of em, cook two cups of rice, fry the chicken with a yellow onion, and mix the whole thing with a can of mushroom soup. This is all stuff I usually have on hand, and it’ll last me several days, highly recommend! It’d be good without the chicken, too, imo; very tasty sort of porridge.”
“I tend to make cottage pie. I usually have some random vegetables around to mix into a pound of ground beef and top with mashed potatoes. Depending on how you prepare them, mashed potatoes don’t have to be unhealthy.”
“I always have flour and baking items on hand. If I needed to, I could make a variety of breads. Pancakes are popular, but I also like dumpling stew. For dumpling stew I flavor some water with pepper and chicken bouillon, then make drop dumplings with flour, salt, pepper, and any other spices I want. After I spoon the dumplings into the boiling water, I add a dash of milk to cream up the soup, but you can keep it thin if you need to. Basically, if you added chicken, it would be chicken and dumplings.”
“A favorite in our family I can usually throw together out of the freezer and pantry staples — cheap chicken Parm. Take chicken tenders or chicken patties, even chicken nuggets in a pinch (we have a small child so these are staples) and add marinara and some cheese on top and bake. Add some pasta and a bag of frozen veggies or canned if you have it. If we want to be extra fancy, I take some bread and make ‘garlic bread’ by buttering the bread and sprinkling garlic powder on it and throwing it in the oven until crispy. It’s so easy but always a favorite.”
“One other thing I like to make to use things up is loaded nachos. Usually, we end up with leftover chicken or beef after a meal, so I’ll shred it, add taco seasoning, pour some tortilla chips on a pan, add cheese, add the meat. Then, I like to serve it with whatever I have on hand; sour cream, salsa, can of corn, can of olives, lettuce, tomato are some we do often. Just whatever we have on hand.”
“Pasta salad. Sometimes, I just add a can of green beans and a can of corn, both drained, fresh herbs, if I have it (basil, cilantro, mint, whatever’s in the fridge), and some Italian dressing, garbanzo beans, if I have it. The best part, the longer it sits, the better it gets, so it’s good as a leftover, and it’s filling.”
“Creamy mushroom ramen! Boil 250ml of water in a pot, throw in the ramen packets, stir. Add the entire can of Campbell’s Creamy Mushroom, stir thoroughly. Throw in your ramen noodles and keep stirring so it doesn’t stick to the pot. Once the noodles are cooked, cover the pot with a lid and let sit for five minutes. A quick recipe that can be split into two servings! Sometimes, I add pan-fried dumplings or a fried egg.”
“Mash up a can of chickpeas, mayo, mustard, seasoning, and if you have any green veggies; it’s a good ‘chicken’ salad. That’s been my go-to, broke or not, because it’s so easy and so cheap and an easy depression meal when you need something comforting and healthy.”
“Frittata using whatever odds and ends I have. Or a regular quiche if I have a box of pie crust in the fridge. If I have frozen hash browns, then a hash brown crust quiche!”
I once used frozen tater tots as a quiche base in a pinch, and not gonna lie, I would do it again. This quiche recipe is super customizable if it’s your first time.
“I always keep pasta sauce and dry pasta in the pantry. I try to also buy ground beef in 5-lb packages (less expensive per pound if you buy in bulk). Then, I divide it into 1-lb portions, seal in freezer bags, and tuck two to three in the bottom of the freezer where I’ll forget about them until this kind of emergency. Same with chicken breasts.”
“Rice bowls. Throw together whatever left over meat and vegetables you have left in the freezer, add sauce, and go. There’s so many different ways to make it; it never gets old. If you’re not in the mood for rice, add beans and salsa instead and make burritos.”
“Black bean quesadillas! Black beans cooked with onions and garlic and any seasoning you want, melted cheese, and tortillas. 👌 Cans of black beans are cheap, LOADED with fiber and protein, and you can add as much cheese as you want, and you can use either one tortilla folded or two tortillas depending on carb intake.”
“I usually go for a cheap puttanesca. I try to keep some olives, capers, and anchovies in my fridge (I don’t use them for anything else so they last a while), and a jar of minced garlic so all I need to get is some pasta and a can of tomatoes. It’s pretty cheap and easy; plus, it can be frozen easily as well. Plus, if you have any spare vegetables, some beef broth, or some mince meat, then it stretches even further and is super tasty. The way I make it when going cheap isn’t the ‘proper’ way to make puttanesca, but it’s still very tasty for how little it costs.”
“Sardine pasta. Get some tinned sardines in tomato sauce, couple of cloves of garlic (if you have it, garlic powder if you don’t), heat it up in a pan and then add some cooked spaghetti. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, but it’s a savior to me when I’m dirt broke.”
“I’ve found baked potatoes to be a great cheap, easy, filling, tasty meal. You can dress them up a ton of different ways with whatever you have around, but honestly, some days I just throw one in the microwave with a little of whatever vegetable I have (a handful of frozen broccoli from a giant bag I got for cheap, usually), and it’s good to go.”
Remember that chili we talked about earlier? Spice up your leftovers by pouring chili in a baked potato and top it off with some cheese. So tasty, so comforting.
“Aloo Gobi, an Indian curry made from cauliflower and potatoes. Delicious.”
This is one of my takeout cravings, but if you’re stocked up on spices, it can be made quite cheaply.
“Grits and a can of low-calorie Progresso soup with a spicy flair to it (Jambalaya, Gumbo, Chili). Make the grits, heat the soup, and pour the soup over the grits.Delicious, micro/macro nutrient healthy, and cheap. You can easily substitute the grain as you choose.”
“Grilled cheese and tomato soup will always be a favorite of mine.”
“Lawn weed salad! I pick dandelions, plantago genus greens, chickweed, violet greens, and ground ivy, and I’ll even pick some fresh sprouted tree leaves from maples and elms. I’ll also pick daylily shoots, mugwort sprouts, and amaranth greens to fry up in some butter or blanch for mixed greens and use like spinach.”
“Spinach lentils is a cheap and simple option. Just fry an onion, add a few cloves of garlic (or garlic powder) and a package of frozen spinach, cook for a few more minutes, then add a can of lentils (drained) and whatever spices you like (salt and pepper does the job). You can add soy sauce if you like, and serve it on rice for a complete meal.”
“About once a month, I purchase some bell peppers with the intent of making stuffed bell peppers. However, the ingredients are different every time as I just use a lot of leftovers in them. Things like: Leftover Chinese food; the rice is already cooked and flavored, and the chicken chunks can be cut up into smaller bites. Leftover Mexican, anything! Honestly, anything good on a taco is great in a pepper. Any cut up veggies for snacking laying around, chop those bad boys up tiny and add some nutrition to your meal! Need a lil’ more protein: Add a can of beans to the mix! Any leftover spaghetti? Definitely add any meatballs or hamburger meat, not sure about the leftover noodles, but I’m not above it!”
Do you have a favorite broke ’til payday meal to share? Tell us all about it in the comments!